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Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

At Some Point, We’ve All Known A Suck-Up

GuyKawasaki11_smWay back in 2006, the year I began writing this daily blog, I featured Guy Kawasaki and his opinion that we need to develop The Art Of Sucking Down.

Most of you are well aware of the meaning of “suck-up” and those around you who demonstrate that trait. It can be quite entertaining to observe. But how about “sucking-down”? It means reaching out and grasping an understanding of how to do good things for the people below you in rank, authority, years of experience, etc. Follow the link to get a refresher – it’s an important skill for CPAs.

Tom-Peters-hatThis week I am reading a manifesto by Tom Peters, Excellence. NO EXCUSES - one of his gigantic rambles that contain snip-its that can change how you relate to your employees, your work, your family and your life. Be prepared, it’s 843 pages long (just a few words on each page… easy reading). I read it as filler-reading when I have a few minutes here and there and need to be inspired.

His entry on page 36 reminded me of Kawasaki. Back in 2006, the CPA profession needed people – we had more work than we had people to perform the services. Guess what? We are back there again – everyone is looking to hire talented professionals. But it is more than that, once you hire them and train them you need to KEEP them. Being a CPA firm partner or managers isn’t about you… who can help you be more successful. It’s about how you can serve the people below you so they feel the passion for their work and their careers.

Here’s the words on Page 36 of Tom’s manifesto:

Suck “down” for success!

Make friends in “low” places.*

*It’s simple, really. “Down” is where the work is done! An Army of Fans “down below” is the greatest group of allies imaginable. If you are, say, making a sales pitch for a complex systems product, it’s true that the “VP” will eventually need to sign off. BUT … the analysis that wins or loses the battle will be done two levels “down” by a trio of young, invisible, unloved engineers. They are the ones you want on your side—find them and nurture them. (FYI: This is a … GUARANTEED … winning formula.)

As a CPA partner, how well do you know your interns? How well do you know your first and second years? How well do you know the people who work for the business owner you serve?

  • Most of our conscious life will be at work. Like it or not. Waste your work life and you have effectively wasted your life.
  • Tom Peters

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

CPA Firm Leaders – I Hope You Are Exhausted

FMBIronton102210I recently read a tweet by my son regarding his 5th grade musicians. “My 5th grade flutes and clarinets just exhaust me. They have so much energy and ask sooooo many questions.” 

In case you don’t know or have forgotten, 5th grade is when children select their first band instrument and began learning from scratch. Of course they will be excited and have lots of questions. While my son might be exhausted, I know he’s very happy about their enthusiasm.

In January and February inside your CPA firm you have quite a few 5th graders. These are the new college graduates going through their very first busy season and your interns who “have so much energy and ask soooo many questions.

As an experienced CPA – a senior, a manager/supervisor or a partner – you might feel absolutely exhausted because of the attention theses newbies demand and need.

A band director invests in the 5th & 6th graders so that when they gradually become very proficient and reach high school age, the band director has a group of very impressive, skilled musicians in the high school marching and concert bands. All along the way, while they work very hard they also have lots of fun.

This is the same investment that CPA managers (at all levels) are making – answer your beginners’ questions with a smile, get them excited and educated about public accounting and 3 to 4 years down the road you will have an impressive, skilled, professional accounting team that works very hard and has lots of fun along the way.

Yes, it is exhausting.

  • If a baseball player strikes out two times, but hits the ball on the third try every time he goes to bat, he's still a great baseball player. But hitting the mark 33 percent of the time isn't good enough for band. In band you have to hit the mark every time you step up.
  • John Mashburn

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

New Type Of Intern Model For Small & Mid-Size CPA Firms

It really is tough for smaller CPA firms to attract the best and brightest accounting graduates. Even larger local and regional firms have a tough time competing on the college campus.

That’s why it is so important to help accounting majors learn more about some of the unique, challenging, supportive and career-building opportunities open to them inside, what I call, the bread and butter firms. So many of these small to mid-size firms really do offer a culture where “life if good.”

Recruiting on the college campus has changed over the years. Your firm founders might have visited the campus in the fall (September/October) to do on-site interviews with students entering their senior year. A few of the students interviewed made the cut and were invited to the office for a more in depth interview. Official offers, for full-time positions, went out just before Thanksgiving.

These days you can speed that up to about 200 miles per hour.  Now, your firm recruiter always makes sure your firm is visible in the spring before the students depart (by hosting a mixer, attending the end of year awards banquets, etc.). In September, firm representatives are ready to go early to interview 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students looking for interns for the upcoming busy season that begins in January. These interns are usually hired by the end of September or very early October – no more waiting until Thanksgiving! In mid-April when they depart, many have received an offer to work for the firm upon graduation, even if it is two years out.

cropped-cropped-WB-logo-web-banner-2Allen Bolnick of Chicago-area firm Weltman Bernfield had an idea to help his smaller firm compete and four other Chicago-area firms joined in. Unlike the usual intern programs you see in public accounting firms, this program does not expect billable hours from their interns.

This unique accounting intern program is based more on education, collaboration and cultural awareness. Read about this success story in an Accounting Today article by Danielle Lee.

  • Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.
  • Aldous Huxley

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Summer Interns – Hire Them Even If You Don’t Need Them

New CPAs Freed MaxickTraditionally, public accounting firms focused all their recruiting activities around the “fall season.” Students were fresh.. back on campus… and their professors had prepared them for the beauty contest of the very active fall season.

I talk to many firms that still operate this way. I also talk to many firms who are just finishing-up the “spring season.”  It involves just as much work and intensity from firm HR professionals, firm administrators and partners as the fall campaign.

If you are not hiring summer interns – wake-up. If you are not identifying and getting to know the students you will be talking to in the fall – wake-up. If you think that being visible on campus just in the fall is enough – wake-up.

Accounting majors at prominent universities don’t know much (if anything) about local and regional accounting firms. Read more about why and how four students were surprised to learn that they could have the resources and support they thought was only available at the national firms at a local/regional firm.

Just a few years ago (including at my former firm) we did not hire summer interns because we didn’t have anything for them to do. Now, you must find something for them to do to keep them in your hiring pipeline. Some of the best students need a summer job!

Find projects where they can help. Let them shadow the summer auditors – there is always some repetitive work they can help with on an audit. They can also shadow in the tax area – have your tax team become your tax teaching team in the summer by establishing mini seminars on tax research, state & local tax, etc.

Check-out these good ideas via HBR, Hiring an Intern? What to Do Before the Summer Starts.

Some advice:

  • Craft your sales pitch. Even if you think your firm’s value proposition is obvious, dig deeper. Think hard about what a twenty-something is going to get out of 8 to 10 weeks of working side by side with your experienced, knowledgeable people.
  • What will your intern walk away with? What skills and insights will he/she learn on the job that will shape their career path, strengthen their network or help them decide once and for all that accounting is the way to go long term (and that your firm is flexible, fun, cool and prestigious).

What do you say to interns when they arrive? Check-out my Intern Speech and modify it to fit your firm.

Picture: Picture of new CPAs at Freed Maxick CPAs Buffalo office at their celebration lunch last week. How active are you at posting to your Facebook page?

  • I am often amazed at how much more capability and enthusiasm for science there is among elementary school youngsters than among college students.
  • Carl Sagan

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Your Firm Could Do What The Ohio Society Is Doing

Here’s a competition that the Ohio Society is conducting. If you are in Ohio, I hope you share it with your interns or prospective college hires.

If you are not in Ohio (or even if you are), why couldn’t your CPA firm do something like this for students at your key recruiting schools?

Here’s how OSCPA is conducting their competition:

Today’s students are busier than ever, as many college students juggle part time jobs, campus activities and community service commitments in addition to full course loads. The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) is offering accounting students a chance to express their interests beyond preparing to become a CPA. Beginning April 1, students can enter OSCPA’s “Me in a Moment” video contest.

“OSCPA loves learning about and supporting our future CPAs,” said Karen West, CAE, vice president, academic & career awareness. “We hope “Me in a Moment” will show just how well-rounded accounting students are.”

To enter, students should create a video beginning with the phrase “I can’t wait to be a CPA! But when I’m not studying you can find me…” The videos that most creatively demonstrate students’ passion outside of the classroom will be posted on the Ohio YCPA Facebook page.

Videos must be under 30 seconds and submitted by May 1 to Rebecca Hixen From May 1- 15th videos will be judged based on the amount of Facebook “likes,” creativity and originality. Three winners will be announced in May and will receive a free Becker CPA Review course and a $50 Visa gift card valued at $3,315.

For more contest information, visit

Attracting the most talented accounting graduates is critical to your firm’s success. How do the accounting students at your local universities view your firm? Do they even know about your firm? On many campuses all the accounting students know about is the big four!

  • Only a few find the way, some don't recognize it when they do - some... don't ever want to.
  • The Cheshire Cat

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

National Meet The Firms Week – CollegeFrog

logo_MTFCollegeFrog is launching the Spring 2013 National Meet The Firms Week, a virtual recruiting event that runs March 25 – March 29.

The inaugural National Meet The Firms Week in October 2012 connected 200 accounting firms and 2,500 students across the country and offered insightful webinars to accounting students on such topics as the CPA exam and unique accounting career paths.

This spring it is expected that hundreds of additional accounting firms and companies nationwide will participate. The goal is to reach 10,000 students participating this spring.

I am thrilled to once again be part of Meet The Firms Week. You can see the full week’s agenda here. I’ll be facilitating the Accounting Career Paths Roundtable on March 25th at 2pm eastern.

I hope you’ll encourage your interns to utilize the sessions during that week and also pass it along to your local accounting professors to share.

  • When I'm hiring a cook for one of my restaurants and I want to see what they can do, I usually ask them to make me an omelette.
  • Bobby Flay

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

What Do Your Interns Think?

It’s mid-February. At your busy accounting firm, your interns have been working diligently for about 6 weeks now. How’s it going for them?

First of all, you have to ask them. If you are a firm leader (that means you are responsible for others…. managing partner, any partner, manager, firm administrator, HR director, etc.), I hope you are touching base with them almost every day. Use two simple questions: How’s it going? Anything you need from me?

Is it time to take them to lunch as a group? From my experience, taking the interns to lunch was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role as a leader. I was always impressed how knowledgeable they were about world events and the business world, in general. They usually knew more about current business trends than CPA firm partners with many years experience.

I also found most of them to be very good conversationalists and great dining partners. Use the time to share some of the things firm management is planning for the rest of the year. Encourage them to ask you questions.

Another valuable thing you might learn….. in six weeks time they have all the partners (and managers) pegged. That means they can tell you each one’s idiosyncrasies and probably can do impressions of them that will make you smile…. well, they will make you laugh out loud.

Send that email today – inviting the interns to join you for lunch. And, splurge – take them to the City Club, Country Club – someplace nice. Make it special.


  • A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Lighten-Up CPA Firm Citizens! Don’t Fear Failure.

Accountants and all their people working inside busy CPA firms don’t want to fail.

Hey interns, being a fast learner doesn’t make you successful in the real-world life in the workforce.

Hey partners, some of the most successful entrepreneurs embraced new undertakings expecting to fail. That is not the typical modus operandi inside an accounting firm.

During my career inside a growing firm, we adopted the slogan “test it.”  Try that new idea you read about (maybe on this blog). Excite your people about trying new things with the mindset that “if this doesn’t work for us, we’ll try something else.”

Many of you have heard me speak…. many of you have the little card I gave you that says, “Do Things!” Keep that in mind as you move through busy season.

Check out what Michael Jordan thinks about failure:

  • Success is not final, failure is not fatal - it is the courage to continue that counts.
  • Winston Churchill

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Advice For CPA Firm Leaders – Try It… You’ll Like It.

You are just beginning one of the busiest time of year. The number of clients who will be calling and emailing will increase significantly. You will be working longer hours and juggling a lot of priorities.

Especially, during this time of increased activity (and happenings) don’t forget your valuable team, the experienced ones, the new ones and the interns.

Here’s two things to say to them – over and over during tax season:

“Here’s what’s going on….. “ (Tell them about new clients, a challenging tax situation you are working on…)

“Do you have any questions for me?” (Make it easy for them to ask questions and make comments – then listen.)

Try it on a couple of people tomorrow. Do a couple more the next day. See how it feels and observe what happens.

Don’t tell me you are too busy!!  When you get your cup of coffee first thing in the morning take the long-way back to your office and BRIEFLY stop by someone’s cube or office and use the two phrases.

You’ll find that just 5 minutes a day can enhance your reputation – Try it… You’ll like it.

  • We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
  • Aristotle

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Asking The Right Questions

How many times have you heard one of your newly hired interns or entry-level accountants remark that what they are being asked to do in the work environment is not something they learned in school? The typical remark that I heard from new grads was, “Boy, they didn’t teach us this in college!”

Because people learn so much more from other people than they do from reading and experimenting on their own, maybe it is time for you to work with your partners to develop a culture of answering questions. So, if you as a leader are going to answer questions, YOU have to create the opportunity for your new employees (and even experienced employees) to ask questions.

Dan Rothstein is the cofounder of the Right Question Institute, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that exists to promote an idea he’s been nursing for more than a decade (that asking good questions is a life skill far more important than we realize). He believes that learning how to ask questions should be considered as critical as learning how to read, write and do basic math. He thinks the ability to use questions strategically can make people smarter and better at their jobs.

The skill of asking questions is not deliberately taught, we assume that anyone can do it. I think this describes a lot of what really goes on inside accounting firms. Communication suffers because so many people do not listen, so many people do not ask questions and so many experienced, skilled, experts in tax and auditing/accounting don’t talk about what they know and open themselves up for questions from others. They might be quite skilled at asking questions and answering questions when it comes to clients, but don’t practice that same skill with their team members.

Younger accountants inside CPA firms are afraid to ask questions because they might appear dumb to their peers (and bosses). Older accountants are afraid to ask questions because it just might create some form of confrontation. Remember when I talk about “the partner nod?” They nod their heads in silence rather than speak up and say what’s really on their minds or to ask pertinent questions so they better understand.

I love the team members in firms who speak up and ask the “dumb” question. Most firms have one of these, maybe two (because so many others are afraid of looking dumb).

My advice to experienced firm leaders and young new hires? Get over it. Ask questions.

  • The key to wisdom is knowing all the right questions.
  • John A. Simmone, Sr.